States introduce bills to restrict surveys

N.J., Colo. legislation could prohibit students from polling classmates

They managed to insert a provision into a bill exempting some student journalists from a requirement that school officials receive permission from students' parents before administering any surveys or assessments.

The original version of the bill did not contain an exception for student journalists. However, after student press advocates learned of the bill, they lobbied to insert a provision that exempts them. They feared that the law had the potential to restrict student press freedoms by limiting whom students could interview and the issues they could cover.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Bill Owens in May, took effect Aug. 2.

Sen. Pat Pascoe, D-Denver, introduced the amendment exempting high school journalists from receiving the consent of students' parents if they are working under the supervision of an adviser and the survey is voluntary.

Some say the change does not go far enough. Nathan Lake, a resident of Englewood Colo, said, in a letter to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News that the bill neglects students working on underground or non-school sponsored publications.

"[Underground] staffs work without an official adult adviser," Black wrote.

SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman said that although concern about how schools will enforce these survey restrictions is justified, the laws do not apply to students.

"These laws limit the actions of schools and school employees. Students, especially those acting on their own, have a First Amendment right to interview and survey other students," Goodman said.

A similar bill before the New Jersey legislature does not contain any exemption for student journalists.

HB 2351, which passed the State Assembly on June 5 by a 55-16 vote and is currently in the Senate, would also require school districts to obtain parental consent before administering most types of surveys.

Assemblyman Scott Garrett introduced the bill in response to parent complaints about a 156-question survey, distributed by the Rigdewood school district, probing students' sexual behavior, drug use and mental stability.

Unlike Colorado's version, Garrett's bill does not make an exception for the student press.

"It sounds like it might affect them, and I can't say whether or not he had that in mind," said a Garrett aide.

Fall 2000, reports